There are five races to go in the 2016 F1 season, with round 17 taking place at one of Formula 1’s most iconic and classic venues – Suzuka, Japan. Suzuka is a demanding circuit that requires bravery and skill, with several corners which are more than capable of kicking a driver off the track. It is also a track with a long history.
The 1988, 1989, 1990 and 1991 races all settled world championships, with Ayrton Senna claiming all three of his titles here. The 2000 title battle between Michael Schumacher and Mika Haikkonen was settled here in Schumacher’s favour, and Sebastian Vettel won the 2011 world championship here. As an event, few races evoke so much drama and history as Suzuka. More recently (two years ago now, which feels like an age sometimes), this track is where Jules Bianchi sustained the injuries that would ultimately take his life nine months later.
In the context of 2016, Lewis Hamilton comes here needing a win to put his title hopes back on track. He is 23 points behind Nico Rosberg and simply must win if he is to keep his title chances alive. Where he to win the next four races he would lead the championship, regardless of what Rosberg did, but first he needs to take those victories, and in a season which has been anything but straightforward, it is hard to see that happening.
Still, it is possible, and this is a venue that Hamilton has won at the past two years running. It means a lot to him to emulate his idol Senna, who mastered this track in no uncertain terms in 1988, when he came from well down the order to win the race and the title. Key points of F1’s only figure-of-8 circuit include the famous S complex from turns 3 to 7, which for the bold can be taken at speed (and this sort of section will suit Red Bull), whilst turns 8 and 9 are deceptive and require a stronger application of the brakes than first thought. Turn 11 is a hairpin made more difficult by the flick to the right just beforehand, which makes judging the corner tough, and turn 13 feels more like a pair of left-handers, that looks like it can be taken flat out – except it really can’t – try it and you’ll run wide.
So it’s a challenging track, a driver’s track, where skill and refinement are key. Whose hands will this play to as the title battle unfolds?